New COVID Variant Found in Florida As State Reports Over 10,000 'Variant of Concern' Cases

A new COVID variant of concern (VOC) has been detected in Florida, according to the state's Department of Health.

The VOC—dubbed P2 or P.1.1—is a mutation of the variant first detected in Brazil called P1 that is more transmissible and appears to have a higher risk of reinfecting people that have already contracted the original virus.

Officials have so far identified two cases of the P2 variant in Florida—a 74-year-old man in Broward County and a 51-year-old woman in Duval County.

The P2 variant is similar to P1 but contains slightly different genetic mutations. Scientists are now monitoring the VOC to see how it behaves and whether or not it will spread widely.

"Variants themselves keep accumulating mutations," Marco Salemi, from the University of Florida's Emerging Pathogens Institute, told the Florida Sun-Sentinel. "This mutation might act differently and it might not."

"We have just two cases in Florida that have the extra mutation, and what that means remains to be seen," Salemi said. "If in a month from now we go from two cases to 500, that will be concerning. We don't know if new mutations are going to make current variants more or less aggressive, which is why we have people around the world actively monitoring them."

Florida has more COVID cases caused by variants than anywhere else in the U.S. In fact, state health officials reported in Wednesday that more than 11,800 cases involving variants of concern had been recorded in the state.

This figure is more than double the number from two weeks earlier, which is an indication that the spread is accelerating. Experts also say the total figure is a significant underestimation as variant monitoring capabilities are limited.

The most common variant by far in Florida was B.1.1.7—the highly transmissible VOC that was first detected in the U.K.—accounting for more than 10,200 cases. The second most common was the P1 variant, accounting for nearly 700 cases.

Experts have warned that the relaxation of coronavirus restrictions in the state could enable variants like these to spread.

"The real problem is that everyone's acting like the pandemic is over," Aileen Marty, a professor of infectious disease and outbreak response at Florida International University, told the Orlando Sentinel. "If we get lackadaisical about it... these variants can overcome some of the immunity that we've developed, and we may find ourselves in a very bad situation again."

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Miami Beach, Florida
Miami Beach Police patrols on Ocean Drive in Miami Beach, on March 22, 2021. Florida has recorded more COVID variant of concern cases than any other state. CHANDAN KHANNA/AFP via Getty Images